Antiviral falls flat once the initial concept wears off, which is a shame because there were flashes of brilliance at certain moments.
Antiviral is a high-concept sci-fi film debut from Brandon Cronenberg, son of legendary director David Cronenberg. It is not completely far-fetched to imagine a future celebrity obsessed society where fans receive a virus that their idol has in order to feel closer to them, which is why the film is so creepy. Unfortunately, the signs of a first-time director are present when several of the same shots are repetitively used and by the time the third act rolls around, most of the enthusiasm wears off. Antiviral has enough of style and dazzling imagery that it could possibly win over certain fans of the genre, despite its various setbacks.
From the very opening shot of a man sitting behind a giant billboard of a female model, Antiviral makes it abundantly clear what the film is about; society’s obsession with celebrities. The man in the opening shot is Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), a technician at the Lucas Clinic who specializes in injecting viruses from celebrities into clients who wish to come closer to their idol. Inside the clinic is a lobby full of clients who hide behind the latest gossip magazine while the latest celebrity chatter airs on the television. And if that was not enough, one can literally get a taste of their obsession at a meat market, where cuts of steak are made up from cultivated cells of celebrities.
With each passing day Syd’s physical condition seems to worsen and everyone around him starts to notice his apparent sickness. But what they do not know is that he is smuggling viruses from the clinic using his own body as the host. After stealing some lab equipment from work, he is able to then remove the copy-protection of the virus which allows him to sell the virus on the black market. Because the market is so fierce, he is in real danger when the wrong people find out his secrets.
Even though Antiviral takes place in a slightly futuristic time period, the truly terrifying part is that it could actually happen someday, especially considering the rise in social media which provides us with constant updates on the celebrities we follow. A rumor started on Twitter can quickly spread to a room full of gossip in the matter of seconds. Rumor spreading is touched on in the film when colleagues discuss rumors they hear from the media but then add their own wild spin on the topic they hear from unreliable sources.
Much of the weight of the film rests on the shoulders of Caleb Landry Jones as he is in almost every frame. The role was physically demanding as he portrays a man who is violently ill from the beginning and by the end is practically on his death bed. For the most part he does a great job with what is required of him. After all, it is not his fault that the film gets repetitive by having him appear in the same state the entire time.
Antiviral falls flat once the initial concept wears off, which is a shame because there were flashes of brilliance at certain moments. The first two acts fly by while the third drags on, mainly because we have to watch the lead stumble around with overwhelming sickness a few too many times. Still, Antiviral is a commendable first outing for the young Cronenberg, even if it is far from flawless. We currently live in a society where we figuratively feed off our celebrities, so Cronenberg’s portrayal of a society that literally feeds off them is frightening yet not unimaginable.